Maverick Viñales has completed the first two days of his Aprilia career, riding the RS-GP for the first time at the Misano circuit. The Spaniard was very happy afterwards, in no small part because he was also fast. He ended the day with a fastest lap of 1'32.4, he told Catalan journalist Damià Aguilar. Earlier, Lucio Lopez of MotoRaceNation, present at the track, reported that Viñales had set a lap of 1'32.8 on a soft tire with 8 laps on.
How fast is that? To put Viñales' times into perspective, the race lap record is 1'32.319, set by Pecco Bagnaia in last year's Misano 2 race, while Viñales himself holds the pole record, with a time of 1'31.077 set at the same event.
The fact that Viñales holds the pole record at Misano is evidence that he is fast at the track, but to be close to the race lap record after just two days on the bike is a sign that he has adapted very quickly. Aprilia did not change the bike much for Viñales, using the chassis and electronics settings taken from Aleix Espargaro's bike.
Viñales himself was extremely happy when he spoke to the media after the test. The happiest he had been, "probably in my life!" he told us. "The time that I am the most happy, because after five years there [at Yamaha] doing ups and downs and we didn't understand many things, at the end you say 'what is going on?' But as soon as I jumped to Aprilia I know my potential, I know what I'm able to do even more."
He had tried to enter Aprilia as a blank slate. "I honestly went without expectation, because you never know how the bike is going to react," Viñales told us. "But I have to say that I was a bit nervous because I never tried a different engine. I was used to riding bikes that have an inline four and I didn't know how it would react, but I was quite surprised that how I adapted to the engine was quite easy and this is nice." The engine character helped make the switch easy. "Basically, the bike has a really [good] handling engine, which is very important also for a long race."
With Viñales set to make is race debut on the Aprilia in 10 days time at Aragon, replacing the injured Lorenzo Savadori, he feels this gives him a big head start on his first full season aboard the RS-GP in 2022. "It was nice to jump quick because I have the opportunity to do six races and this is much better than to do just five days of testing. I will try to prepare well, and also with Aleix, the 2022, which is very important for me."
Sooner than expected
Actually being able to race at Aragon had been unexpected. "I didn't expect it," Viñales said. "I expected to be at home waiting for November to test the bike, but this opportunity is made first of all because I left [Yamaha] and then because Aprilia give me the opportunity. So basically what makes me really happy is that all the guys are working very hard, the atmosphere is really strong and also coming from a podium is the best time, you know, to join the team and try to give them the feedback." Viñales praised the work of the current team as well. "For sure Aleix and Savadori made an amazing job because they ride very fast and the bike is working well. I was quite surprised because the adaptation to the bike has been quite fast."
That fast adaptation had persuaded him to try to start racing as quickly as possible. "I wanted to race as soon as I did three [runs] with the bike," Viñales told us. "I think it's the best way way to prepare for next year. Even if maybe I'm not ready because it's difficult on the riding style still to be at one with the bike because I was used to ride a completely different bike. But I think in Aragon I will understand a little bit more, also riding with Aleix, he is fast so I can learn quickly how the bike works. But I feel strong. I feel very strong and this is the positive point."
Adapting to a different bike also requires a change of riding style, Viñales explained. "What I need to change is the way of braking, it's a bit different. This is a big learning process because the way that you can brake with the Aprilia is totally different and for this I will need laps." His new teammate can help in that regard "Also Aleix is very hard braking and I will need to learn a little bit from him how he does that strong brake. But I think this will come with confidence. This is the important point."
Goals still to achieve
The split with Yamaha had not caused him to hang his head and give up hope, Viñales told us. His ambition did not stop burning. "You know after everything happened, the only thing I had in mind was to ride, keep riding, I will not give up! Until i get my objectives accomplished. So I keep going. I keep going very strong. I will push at my maximum already from the first lap in Aragon. I know my place in Aprilia for what it is so I need to push so much, I need to improve myself and I need to keep going."
Viñales was not surprised that Yamaha let him race the Aprilia this year. "No, it's fair. Everyone has to have the opportunity and to leave the things in the past," Viñales said. Yamaha also had something to gain, of course: in exchange for releasing Maverick Viñales, Aprilia could also release Andrea Dovizioso from his testing contract. That allows Yamaha to put the Italian on the Petronas Yamaha from the Misano race, and gives him five races to get up to speed for next year.
When the honeymoon is over.
That Maverick Viñales should be happy after two days on the bike is a positive sign, but it is also a natural consequence of having changed. The Spaniard was deeply unhappy in the Yamaha team, and had been for some time. A change of scenery brings a breath of fresh air, and the eagerness with which he was welcomed will have made him feel wanted, an important motivation for Viñales.
That he should be fast is also hardly a surprise. Viñales is the undisputed champion of winter testing, frequently topping each preseason and post-race test. He is fast when he can ride alone, and choose his own lines.
The real test will come when things get difficult. When Viñales has a bad weekend, or finds that he can't overtake during a race, or has a technical problem. Right now, the Spaniard is in the honeymoon period with Aprilia. But honeymoons come to an end, and then the real work of the relationship starts.
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